Rome is full of incredible things to visit but if you want something really exclusive, there’s only one place to go: the Vatican Scavi. Also known as the Vatican City Necropolis, The Tomb of the Dead, or St. Peter’s Tomb, the Scavi is famous for being the final resting place of one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, Peter.
What is the Vatican Necropolis?
First off let’s define the Greek word ” Necropolis”. Necro means Dead, Polis means city therefore you got City of the Dead or in today’s vernacular we would just say ” Cemetery”. Now that we understand what a Necropoli is, let’s discover why this particular one at the Vatican is so important.
Who is buried in the Vatican Necropolis? In Ancient Roman times, the area across the river ( where you have the Vatican today) was not a very hospitable part of the city. It was mostly low-lying which meant flooding and malaria. This is one of the reasons why it was a popular area for cemeteries ( Necropoli) and recent excavations have found dozens of Mausolea in the area.
The necropolis wasn’t always buried underground – it was originally an open-air cemetery with tombs and mausolea. The mausoleums unearthed were initially labeled with the Greek alphabet letters Φ (phi), Χ (chi), and Ψ (Psi). Later, Latin letters were used.
Where is St. Peter’s Tomb?
In the 1940s they were expanding the underground area to bury the popes who had died. As they excavated, they found the ancient necropolis and a significant piece of ancient graffiti that they translated as “Peter is here.”
As the story goes, St. Peter was crucified in Rome in 64 AD on the orders of Emperor Nero. Then, when Constantine became the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity in the 4th century, he had a church built on the site of St. Peter’s grave – this was the original St. Peter’s Basilica. When Michelangelo designed the current Saint Peter’s Basilica, he centered the dome right over the spot where St. Peter’s grave was.
There is some debate as to whether the bones really are from St. Peter, but there are a fair few archaeologists today who are quite sure that bone fragments retrieved here belonged to the man himself.
In doing searches for the Vatican Necropolis you will often come across the word ” Scavi”. What does Scavi mean in Italian? In Italian it simply means excavations. After the above-mentioned excavations were done, they decided to offer visits to the necropolis. As a result, the name of the tour was called Scavi Tour after the excavations that were done there in the 1940s.
How to get tickets to see St. Peter’s Tomb
The only way to get tickets for the Vatican Scavi is to email the Scavi Office directly, at email@example.com. You will need to provide the following:
- The exact number of visitors – please remember that no children under 15 are allowed!
- The names and surnames of everyone you need tickets for
- Language desired for the tour
- The dates you are available for a visit (the more you give, the more chance you have!)
- Contact information
It’s best to send your email as early as possible – in fact, as soon as you book your flights is the best time to do it to ensure that you’re in with a chance of getting a ticket. It’s a VIP experience for a reason – only 250 people are allowed through each day! If you compare that to the 20,000 that visit the Vatican Museums, it’s an incredibly small number – this means it is notoriously hard to get a ticket and gets booked up months and months in advance.
Tickets are 13€ per person. There are no concession tickets available, and when you receive confirmation of an available spot, you must pay for the tickets online within 10 days in order to secure them.
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How long is the Scavi/ Necropolis Tour?
Your tour will be in a small group with a maximum of 12 people, which lasts around 90 minutes. At the end, you get to see the actual tomb of St. Peter and the bones of the dead Apostle.
While the guided tour only takes around 1.5 hours, when planning your visit, you should also factor in the time it will take you to find the entrance, and gather and show your tickets. At the end, the tour leaves you in the Vatican grottoes, underneath the Basilica. You are free to roam those for as long as you like, before heading up to see the Basilica.
What is the difference between the Vatican Scavi and the Vatican Grottoes?
The Vatican Grottoes is the vast underground graveyard below St. Peter’s Basilica, which you’ll be able to see at the end of the Scavi tour. In the Vatican Grottoes, there are the tombs and sarcophagi of many popes, as well as secular monarchs such as the tomb of Queen Charlotte of Cyprus, the tomb of the Stuarts, and the tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden.
There are also some incredible archaeological sights, such as remaining columns from the original 4th-century basilica. The entrance is in the Pier of St. Andrew near the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, and it’s free to enter – however, there may well be a line. These grottoes form part of our Detailed Itinerary Vatican Tour.